Criminal Justice Group Calls For Decriminalization Of Marijuana In San Marcos
A local criminal justice reform group is launching a campaign to decriminalize cannabis in the City of San Marcos.
The group, Mano Amiga, wants to get a measure on the November 2022 ballot that, if approved, would end legal penalties for marijuana possession in the city.
The nonprofit says the effort is a continuation of its work to keep people out of jail for minor offenses. In recent years, the group lobbied San Marcos to make the practice known as cite-and-release into law, which requires officers to issue citations for minor offenses instead of making on-the-spot arrests. The group has also pushed Hays County to create a public defender's office.
Eric Martinez, policy director for Mano Amiga, said decriminalizing cannabis takes those efforts a step further. Marijuana possession citations would still represent a burden on people, though, since cite-and-release still requires people to deal with what Martinez calls the "collateral consequences" of a criminal charge, like legal fees.
"It is well past time that we follow the footsteps of many cities and states in the United States to not criminalize possession of cannabis," he said.
Martinez said Mano Amiga will officially launch a petition in the spring to get the measure on the November 2022 ballot. To put the initiative before voters, the group needs signatures from at least 10% of registered voters, and the signatures have to be approved by the city clerk.
Roughly one in 10 bookings at the Hays County Jail are related to possession of marijuana misdemeanor charges, and over a quarter of those bookings have no other associated charges, according to data collected by Sarah Minion, an outreach associate with the Vera Institute of Justice. The organization works with counties across Texas to help ensure fairness within the criminal justice system.
In March, the Vera Institute of Justice worked with Hays County to create a Hays County Jail Dashboard, which shares real-time data about the people being booked into the Hays County Jail.
Minion said the data shows that nearly one in six people booked into the Hays County Jail are Black.
"I think it really points to the fact that there are serious inequities in how cannabis is criminalized," she said.
The City of Austin effectively decriminalized cannabis last year when it asked police officers to stop issuing citations for possessing small amounts.